Combing your life for art

Spring 2021 saw Haberdashers' Knights Academy year 10 art class take part in an artist-led project with the Horniman Museum, around the theme of combs. Head of Creative Art and Design Aasha John tells us more.

As an art teacher, I’ve always been interested in how I can support my students with telling their own stories in their artwork. I’m interested in how best to facilitate their learning, to allow them to engage with both historical and contemporary practices and improve their contextual and critical understanding. I aim to develop students into young artists with the confidence to question and challenge the artwork we explore.

The project with the Horniman was an excellent opportunity for this, as we were able to both explore the Museum collection and engage critically with a curator, deconstructing the roles and responsibilities of the museum.

We were invited by the Horniman to get involved in the creation of some 3D printed combs. These would be designed by the students inspired by the Horniman’s combs collections, and their own experiences, and then 3D printed by Goldsmiths University.

We took part in online workshops with curator JC Niala in which students were able to discuss the moral and ethical implications of the museum collections. Students were asked to investigate the combs collection and reflect on their own personal collections, and how they curate their own belongings to tell stories about their identity.

We were then introduced to the work of Alix Bizet in a series of artist-led sessions. Students worked in groups to develop their own responses to Alix’s work. The workshops with Alix enabled students to work with a practicing artist and produce their own artwork. This gave them the chance to develop their understanding of the design process, work in collaboration, and use Alix’s feedback to refine their work.

Year 10 worked in small groups to create combs that reflected their relationships with their hair. Students used signs and symbols to produce combs that communicated empowerment, connections with their culture and heritage, community, family and how stereotypes about hair have impacted on their sense of identity.

Being able to have discussions with a curator and develop their ideas with an artist was a completely new experience for the class. It helped to develop their understanding of what it means to be a practicing artist.

The workshops took place during Covid school closures and students found the structure of the sessions really engaging. For me, being able to plan sessions with JC and Alix, and discuss how I could continue the learning experience when back in the classroom, was of great benefit to my teaching practice.

See the finished combs in Hair: Untold Stories.